Journalist explores church’s future trends at Epiphany, Normal

By: By Tom Dermody

NORMAL — Catholics must better unite in a “spirituality of communion” or risk being “steamrolled” by 21st century challenges such as the biotech revolution, journalist John L Allen Jr. told about 200 people at a fundraising dinner for Epiphany Parish here last Sunday.

Allen, senior correspondent for National Catholic Reporter, discussed just a few topics outlined in his new book “The Future Church: How Ten Trends are Revolutionizing the Catholic Church.”

But his sampling provided plenty of food for thought for the dinner patrons at Epiphany’s new parish hall. Proceeds from the evening, which opened with a “Mostly Baroque” concert by The Heartland Festival Orchestra in the church, benefitted Epiphany’s recently completed building project.

Allen said it is important to “look down the line” because of what we can be learned about living as Catholics today.

And what the veteran journalist — who also serves as a Catholic commentator for CNN and NPR — has learned through his years as a Rome-based reporter and travelling the globe is that elements of our church and world are changing rapidly.

For example, while many may view the Catholic Church through a European or American lens, the last century saw a sweeping shift in Catholic growth to the southern hemisphere.

In discussing the first of his ten trends, “A World Church,” Allen noted that in 1900 there were 266 million Catholics, with 200 million of them living in Europe. At the start of this century, the world’s Catholic population had swelled to 1.1 billion, with 720 million in the southern hemisphere and 380 million in Europe.

“By mid-century three of four Catholics will live in the global south,” said Allen. That will have a major impact on church priorities, he added, because what concerns Catholics in the south — social justice needs and growing, youthful populations — are often different than what’s on the “front burner” for Catholics in Europe and the west.

“American Catholics are six percent of global Catholics, meaning 94 percent of Catholics are not like us,” said Allen.

The other nine future church trends listed by Allen in his talk and book include Evangelical Catholicism, Islam, The New Demography, Expanding Lay Roles, The Biotech Revolution, Globalization, Ecology, Multipolarism, and Pentecostalism.

Allen said the “mind-bending” ethical challenges being produced by the biotech revolution — with rapidly evolving research in genetic engineering, stem cells, in vitro fertilization, etc. — is challenging society to define “What does it mean to be a human being?” The church has much to say in that area, said Allen, but its ethical wisdom must “keep pace.”

Allen said he finds the 21st century trends “terribly exciting” and said they can “release new energies.” But they are also “frought with potential to exacerbate divisions.”

He said Catholic laity must take the lead in “seeing through the eyes of charity rather than suspicion to meet the challenges.”

The Heartland Festival Orchestra, meanwhile, more than met the challenge of its program to open the evening. Maestro David Commanday led the area’s newest chamber orchestra through a program that included Vivialdi’s Concerto for Two Trumpets, Bach’s Concerto in D minor for Two Violins, and ended with a special arrangement of “On Eagle’s Wings.”

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